Tuesday, August 25, 2015
This lengthy new Vice article, headlined "How America's Legal Weed Is Changing the Black Market and Influencing Mexican Cartels," provides an effective (though necessarily incomplete) account of how legal reform developments in the United States are impacting all sort of marijuana markets. The piece merits a full read, and here are excerpts:
And these are mostly happy days for the legal weed industry, whose sales revenues grew from an estimated $1.5 billion in 2013 to $2.7 billion last year; one projection has them hitting $35 billion by 2020. All across Oregon, which legalized medical marijuana in 1998, people are attempting to carve out niches, hawking a dizzying array of weed sodas, candies, extracts, and other products. Oregonians overwhelmingly approved a ballot initiative last year that sanctioned pot sales to recreational users, making the state the next frontier of the so-called "green rush" that began in Colorado and Washington in 2012....
That new day hasn't dawned entirely. The hodgepodge of pot laws nationwide — 23 states plus Washington, DC now allow some form of medical marijuana — has created a situation ripe for exploitation. One of the great promises of marijuana legalization has been the concurrent elimination of the black market for weed, putting local dealers out of business and sticking it to Mexican cartels by cutting into their bottom line.
But while that may happen eventually, the black market in the United States is still thriving. Growers, consumers, dealers, and others in the industry told VICE News about operators that undercut prices at state pot shops, and several sources described illicit operations that ship large quantities of weed across the country from states that have legalized pot to states that haven't. Mexican organized crime experts told us that cartels are still smuggling bricks of bud across the border, and are perhaps even improving the quality of their product to cater to the rising expectations of American stoners.
"You're not going to eliminate the black market overnight," Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, told VICE News. "It's going to take some time, because essentially when you look at prices in the black market, whether it's marijuana or meth or cocaine, you're compensating drug dealers and everyone in the supply chain for the risk of arrest and incarceration. That goes away with legalization."
Most experts agree with Kilmer, saying that in time, as more states repeal pot prohibition, the dynamics of the marijuana black market will begin to resemble those of America's tobacco and alcohol black markets. There are still people selling untaxed loose cigarettes and running moonshine even though the vast majority of consumers prefer going to the store to buy smokes and alcohol legally. Right now, it's extremely tempting for growers in legal states to export their product to prohibition states, where prices are far higher.
Sam Chapman, cofounder of New Economy Consulting, a firm that specializes in the marijuana industry, told VICE News it's widely known that a significant portion of the weed grown in Oregon and northern California gets exported to the East Coast. "We've been seeing that product end up in Florida, end up in New York — places that don't have cannabis decriminalization and have very harsh punishments," he said. "When you have prohibition in other states, it drives the price up [there] because it's not regulated… I'd guess 80 percent of all product in Oregon is, unfortunately, leaving the state."
August 25, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, August 9, 2015
The state-wide elected (Republican) Auditor of Ohio, Dave Yost, has penned this fascinating new commentary headlined "Ohio marijuana proposal echo cautionary tale of margarine prohibition." The whole piece merits a full read, and here are some of the historical insights and lessons Auditor Yost presents:
Margarine prohibition ended in Ohio via the ballot box in 1949. How it happened sheds some light on the attempts to repeal marijuana prohibition this year.
Oleomargarine, as it was known at the dawn of the 20th century, was invented in France as a result of a prize offered for the invention of a cheap substitute for butter. The invention spread quickly to the United States....
[The invention caused] alarm among Wisconsin dairy farmers who correctly concluded that a tasty, less expensive alternative to their butter would create a drop in sales and cut into their income. Threatened by the competition, they won passage of new laws banning the sale of yellow oleomargarine. In 1890, Ohio enacted its own prohibition on yellow oleomargarine. Plain white oleo was legal – only the kinds that looked like butter were against the law.
White oleo could be sold with yellow dye packets that could be mixed in at home. The additional labor, at a time before power mixers and food processors, was not well received in Ohio's kitchens. The end result was frequently a swirled effect, yellow and white. At least it didn't look like rendered pig fat. (That's what lard is, of course.)
The matter was challenged in court as an unconstitutional taking under the Fifth Amendment, but the U.S. Supreme Court in 1903 held that the Fifth Amendment did not apply to the states, only the federal government.
So, aggrieved Ohioans turned to their legislature, seeking relief. Year after long year, they were whipped by the powerful dairy lobby – a potent political force at a time when every county had at least one representative in the House, no matter how small its population.
The political churn made Ohioans burn with passion – they yearned to keep more of what they earned by purchasing cheaper butter substitute. Finally, they turned to the initiative process, collected petition signatures, and placed the issue on the 1949 November ballot, ending prohibition against yellow oleo once and for all.
Today, the self-proclaimed ResponsibleOhio is seeking an end to marijuana prohibition through the initiative process – but with a twist. If approved by voters, it would write into the Ohio Constitution the location of ten farms that would be allowed to grow marijuana, exclusively.
A business plan shouldn't be written into the constitution. Even if you're for ending prohibition – of oleo or marijuana – writing into the constitution an exclusive license to make the newly legalized product is a bad idea. It wasn't needed for oleo legalization, and it's not needed for marijuana legalization either.
A legalized, properly licensed market should be available to all comers, not just the few with the money to enshrine into the Ohio Constitution a monopoly for themselves. Oleo prohibition ended at the hands of the voters – and without the creation of a cartel of rich guys to control the market. If it is the judgment of the voters of Ohio that marijuana prohibition should end, the ResponsibleOhio amendment is the wrong way to go about it.
I find this commentary fascinating not only because I did not know Ohio's margarine prohibition history, but also because it suggests many legal reform lessons. In my view, this Ohio margerine prohibition history highlights that: (1) even when lots of citizens desire a product, entrenched economic and social interests and lobbyists can get Ohio legislators to enact big-government, market-imparing prohibitions placing the short-term interests of insiders over the long-term interests of citizens, and (2) because entrenched insiders have power and influence in Ohio, citizens outsiders will sometimes have to go directy to the people to amend Ohio law in order to reflect the long-term interests of Ohioans rather than the short-term interests of entrenched insiders.
I am an advocate of marijuana reform in part because I see the development of ballot-driven reform efforts in Ohio and some other states to be a (healthy) reaction to entrenched insiders failing to respond properly to the citizenry's views on both medical and recreational marijuana. I believe the controversial ResponsibleOhio reform model emerged (and could become Ohio constitutional law) primarily because the Ohio General Assembly for years failed to even consider any kind of medical marijuana reform (even as nearly 40 states and many members of Congress now have come to understand the potential benefits of canabis for those suffering from chronic pain or severe seizure disorders or PTSD).
Thanks to Auditor Yost, I now know entrenched anti-margarine interests required the Ohio people to move forward with prohibition repeal via initiative back in the 1940s . Now, 65 years later, Ohio history is repeating itself as entrenched anti-marijuana interests are requiring the Ohio people to move forward with desired prohibition repeal via initiative. And even if the ResponsibleOhio model does not in 2015 succeed in creating the kind of "legalized, properly licensed market" that Auditor Yost and the citizens of Ohio seem eager to consider, I am cautiously hopeful that other outsider groups will continue in Ohio (and elsewhere) to mobilize citizens to support personal freedom over prohibition, legal markets over black markets, economic potential over problematic paternalism.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this new commentary by Paul Waldman at The Week. Here are excerpts:
Republicans, as everyone knows, are advocates of "states' rights," the theory being that power residing in the hands of the federal government is inherently suspect, while power spread out among 50 smaller governments is inherently virtuous — or at least more so. After all, aren't states "laboratories of democracy," where all kinds of interesting experimentation can take place and the best ideas can then bubble up to the rest of the country?
Well...sometimes. The truth is that conservatives like states having independence when they like what the states are doing, and liberals feel the same way (the difference is that liberals don't claim they have a philosophical commitment to states' rights over federal rights in the abstract). When states' rights collide with a policy objection, the policy objection is going to win.
Usually, that is. But there's at least one area where the GOP is divided on the whole states' rights issue. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie earlier this week highlighted the disagreement with some blunt words about legalized marijuana. "If you're getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it," he said. "As of January 2017, I will enforce the federal laws." Chris Christie, in other words, is coming to harsh your buzz — or he would be, if he had any chance of actually becoming president.
His position isn't an unreasonable one. While the Justice Department has discretion in how vigorously it enforces the law, and can decide to allow state legalization to take effect unimpeded, federal law is supreme over state laws, and marijuana is still illegal under federal law....
While this issue hasn't gotten much attention in the presidential race so far, it's one of the few where you'll actually find some diversity of opinion among the GOP candidates. Marco Rubio seems to agree with Christie; though he's a little vague, he says that "we need to enforce our federal laws." Scott Walker's position is essentially the same. Ted Cruz thinks it's all right for the federal government to leave states alone on this issue, but he says that should be Congress' decision, not the president's. Jeb Bush has said about legalization in those states, "I thought it was a bad idea, but states ought to have the right to do it." Rick Perry says much the same thing: states that legalized "will look back and they will find that it was a huge error that they made," but his commitment to the Tenth Amendment is such that he'll "defend it to my death, if you will, to allow them to make those decisions."
Rand Paul has gone the farthest: While he doesn't support legalization, he has co-sponsored a bill to end the federal ban on medical marijuana and has advocated an end to harsh criminal penalties for possession.
With the sort-of-but-not-really exception of Paul, all the Republicans want to make clear that they're opposed to anyone smoking pot. That might be perfectly sincere, but it also reflects their party's demographics and its role in the culture war. To the prototypical Republican — particularly the Republican primary voter — marijuana is something hippies do.
But within the party, that feeling is far from universal. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 39 percent of Republicans favored legalization. That's significantly less than the 59 percent of Democrats who agreed, but it's still a substantial chunk of the party — and up 15 points from what Pew showed just five years ago. So as strange as it may seem, within a few years a majority of Republican voters might actually favor legalization....
[I]f more and more states legalize cannabis, it could mean that even today's most common Republican position — I don't like it, but I'm not going to fight it — could wind up being de facto support for legalization, at least in the half of the country where liberals are in charge. And if public opinion keeps moving in this direction, don't be surprised if the Democratic nominee in 2020 — and the Republican nominee within another election or two after that — actually comes out in favor of legal pot.
Saturday, July 11, 2015
The title of this post is drawn from the headline of this new CNN article. Here are excerpts from an article that does not quite match the headline but captures the important reality of modern changing sentiments:
This week marks the one-year anniversary since sales of marijuana for recreational use began in Washington state. In the first year, $70 million in tax revenue has been generated statewide from marijuana sales. The Washington State Liquor Control Board, which oversees the state's cannabis industry, reports that dispensaries sold more than $257 million worth of marijuana.
Chip Boyden, who owns a medical marijuana dispensary in Tucson, Arizona, jumped at the thought of expanding his marijuana business with family in Washington after the first dispensaries started to open in July 2014. Washington voters passed a law in 2012 to legalize marijuana for adults over 21. When Boyden first opened his shop in Tucson, he said the attitude from the surrounding community was less than supportive, although the state permits medical marijuana usage. "We had people come up and say they aren't against it, but they were unsure who was going to be the demographic for our business," he said.
But in Seattle, Boyden said he noticed a difference in attitude at Hashtag recreational cannabis, a pot shop that Boyden started in April with co-owner Logan Bowers and shop manager Michael Bowers. "We had great support. We didn't have anyone come in a get upset," Logan Bowers said.
Boyden said there's a cultural shift happening in Washington, Colorado and other states that have started to legalize marijuana use. "The recreational market allows people, those who were interested in trying cannabis, to be able to come in and sample different flavors," he explained. "It's more like going into the store and buying a bottle of wine."...
Kris Krane, president of 4Front Ventures, which provides consulting and support for marijuana dispensaries across the United States, said that marijuana legalization and sales will start to become a larger political discussion. "I think 2016 is the year where this is actually an issue in presidential policy that candidates have to answer to," he said.
As for Washington state's first year of marijuana sales, Krane said $70 million in tax revenue actually seems a bit low. "It's important to know that number is not indicative of what we will see in year two or three." He is predicting that those numbers will increase, especially if the excise tax is lowered in the state.
But for dispensary owners and operators Logan Bowers and Michael Bowers, it's not the money that's drawing them into the business. Rather, it is the change in attitude they are seeing. "One thing that struck me most as a manager, is the wide variety of people who come in," Michael Bowers said. "We see older customers bring in their adult children. It's normal people using it. It's everyday people in your neighborhood."
Tuesday, July 7, 2015
I just came across this terrific recent lengthy commentary piece at The RAND blog authored by Beau Kilmer. The piece is titled "The 10 Ps of Marijuana Legalization," and it is a must-read for anyone thinking about modern marijuana reform. Here is how the piece gets started, along with the list of pot Ps:
Up and down the Western Hemisphere, marijuana policy is a growing topic of discussion, and laws are starting to change.
In 2014, retail marijuana stores opened in the states of Colorado and Washington, where anyone over 21 years old can purchase a wide variety of marijuana products: buds, baked goods, candies, drinks, lotions, e-cigarettes infused with hash-oil solutions, etc. Similar stores are expected to open in Oregon and Alaska in the upcoming year. While marijuana remains illegal under U.S. federal law, the Obama administration has decided not to block these efforts.
At the southern end of the hemisphere, Uruguay became the first country in the world to remove its prohibition on marijuana in late 2013. While the new law allows users to grow their own, join a cooperative, or purchase marijuana from a participating pharmacy — those who want to legally obtain marijuana must choose one of these options and register with the government — it remains unclear when the pharmacy option will be made available.
In addition, both Colombia and Costa Rica have bills in Congress that would make allowances for medical marijuana. In February, Jamaica passed a law to decriminalize personal possession and create a regulatory system for supplying marijuana for medical and religious purposes. In April, the Chilean congressional health committee approved a bill to legalize home marijuana production for medical and nonmedical purposes. The bill has now moved to the lower house of the Chilean Congress.
Legalizing marijuana for nonmedical purposes is especially controversial, with many arguments made by advocates on all sides of the debate. For example, those seeking to legalize marijuana hope to diminish the black market and the violent crime that can be associated with the trade, depending on the country. They also want less money going to criminal organizations and more to governments via taxation; however, the revenue aspect has been much more a topic of discussion in the United States than in Uruguay. Legalization proponents do not want people arrested and incarcerated for marijuana use, often saying that it does more harm than good and that it is an inefficient use of criminal justice resources. Finally, many advocates argue it is hypocritical to allow alcohol to be legally consumed but not marijuana.
Those on the other side of the debate worry that legalization will increase marijuana consumption — especially among youth — because of increased availability, reduced stigma, lower prices, and marketing (when it is allowed). Marijuana is not a harmless substance, and its consumption is correlated with adverse outcomes (e.g., high school drop-out, mental health disorders); however, it is often hard to prove that marijuana use causes those outcomes. There is, on the other hand, clear causal evidence linking marijuana use to accidents, cognitive impairment during intoxication, and anxiety and panic attacks that sometimes lead to emergency-room visits. Persistent heavy users run the risk of becoming dependent and also suffering from bronchitis. There is also strong evidence linking heavy marijuana use with psychotic symptoms, cardiovascular disease, and testicular cancer. We know very little about the health consequences — both harms and benefits — of the new marijuana products that are proliferating in places that have legalized.
Since no jurisdictions had removed the prohibition and legalized production before these experiments (not even the Netherlands goes this far), it is difficult to project the consequences. Further, legalization is not a binary choice; several decisions need to be made that will ultimately shape whether legalized marijuana ends up being good or bad for society.
Based on insights obtained from a series of research collaborations and through consulting with various government entities, I have identified 10 important choices confronting jurisdictions that legalize. Conveniently, they all begin with the letter “P.”...The 10 Ps 1. Production.... 2. Profit motive.... 3. Promotion.... 4. Prevention.... 5. Policing and enforcement.... 6. Penalties.... 7. Potency.... 8. Purity.... 9. Price.... 10. Permanency....
July 7, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical community perspectives, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 6, 2015
The title of this post is the title of this notable law review article by Helia Garrido Hull recently posted to SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Every day attorneys face ethical dilemmas in trying to meet client needs while complying with professional rules of conduct. Perhaps nowhere is the risk of violating ethics rules more apparent than in states that have diverged from federal drug policy on marijuana. Attorneys currently engaged in marijuana-related counseling may violate federal law even where their actions are otherwise legal under state law. Changes in public opinion regarding the legality of marijuana that are driving some states to legalize or decriminalize certain marijuana-related activities provide no basis for attorneys to breach the covenant they have made with the public to uphold the rule of law.
This article argues that attorneys should refrain from counseling clients on the use, possession, and distribution of marijuana until doing so does not violate federal law. Attorneys who favor marijuana legalization should utilize their specialized training and advocacy skills to change the existing law. Current state action to relax ethics standards applicable to marijuana related activities to insulate attorneys from ethics violations could produce the anomalous result of having an attorney criminally prosecuted under federal law for an action that does not violate state ethics rules. Such a result creates internal inconsistency within the state, confuses the public, and could lead to questions regarding the integrity of the profession.
Part I of this article will provide a brief overview of the historical role of marijuana use in America and the basis for its subsequent ban. Part II will address the emergence of state action to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use and examines the federal response. Then, Parts III and IV will examine the American Bar Association (ABA) model rules and select, state-specific attorney ethics rules applicable to counseling clients on marijuana-related issues and will argue that an attorney's ethical obligations to the profession militate against counseling clients in this area except under certain narrowly defined circumstances. Part V of the article will provide recommendations for competing interests of adhering to the rule of law with those proponents that want to legalize marijuana along with any economic benefits of its legalization.
Friday, July 3, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new NPR Morning Edition segment. Here is the piece's textual teaser:
The business of selling marijuana legally — for medical and recreational purposes — is expanding. But so are concerns that African-Americans are being shut out of this new industry.
Thursday, June 25, 2015
Members of the Senate are attempting to finish off where the White House started earlier this week, by calling for the removal of additional barriers still in place that they believe are limiting scientific study on the effects of marijuana.
At a hearing of the Senate Caucus on International Narcotics Control Wednesday, members challenged representatives from the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Drug Administration and the National Institute on Drug Abuse on the current process for approving marijuana studies. "I understand the desire for caution. We're Congress, we act slowly. But these are people who need the help, for who a five- to 10-month delay is a death sentence," said Sen. Orin Hatch, R-Utah.
The hearing specifically looked at the effects of cannabidiol, a derivative of marijuana, on patients. Many members and witnesses spoke of anecdotal evidence that the drug helped children with chronic epilepsy when nothing else would. However, large-scale studies on the link have been rare, largely in part of heavily controlled federal government approval of marijuana research.
The hearing came on the heels of White House action earlier this week that removed a key government hurdle blocking many scientific marijuana studies from moving forward. The White House action means scientists will no longer have to submit research proposals to the Public Health Service Review (PHS) at the Department of Health and Human Services to get a green light for marijuana research.
But while the move, which was announced Monday, signals a shift in federal policy, many caution that there remain significant barriers to studying the drug’s positive medical effects on humans. Marijuana advocates point out that the PHS was only one of three major hurdles limiting research. The other two -- the fact that researchers can only use marijuana from a single government-owned dispensary at the University of Mississippi and classifying marijuana as a Schedule I drug -- endure.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, and Corey Booker, D-NJ, are two key members of Congress who are fighting for more studies on the effects of the drug. Earlier this year they introduced a bill, along with Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, that in addition to getting rid of the now-defunct PHS review, would downgrade marijuana from a Schedule I drug, up there with heroin, to a Schedule II, in the line with opiates.
Both senators were guests at the caucus hearing and took no time to challenge witnesses from the various government agencies present. A fiery Gillibrand challenged NIDA and the National Institute for Health's strict control of cannabidiol. NIDA representatives said one drug company had a patent on cannabidiol. Many fear this control over the drug will limit future research options. Gillibrand shot back saying, "Let's be clear, we have to change the laws to remove the impediments so that we have research across the country."
Whether it be cannibidiol or marijuana in general, supporters say much still needs to be done to study the drug and get it available on markets where medical marijuana is legal. “Arguably the largest hurdle in this process still remains in place,” Paul Armentano, deputy director at the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws said. “That is that government policy … mandates that all clinical protocols must utilize government grown cannabis provided by NIDA.”...
While attitudes may be changing, led by President Obama himself, and including DEA efforts to expand the availability of marijuana for studies, progress remains slow. As a result, many members of Congress are getting in on efforts to streamline the regulatory process in hopes that it may make the drug available to those who need it.
Just last May, Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., Morgan Griffith, R-Va., Jane Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., wrote a letter to the Secretary of HHS asking her to remove the PHS barrier. In a statement Monday, Blumenauer called the White House’s decision “a significant step toward improving an antiquated system that unfairly targets marijuana above and beyond other substances in research.” He said, however, there still remains a lot to be done and said he’s working on legislation to address the remaining blockades.
While more and more lawmakers’ acceptance of marijuana’s role in medicine might be a welcome surprise, some marijuana supporters are skeptical that additional marijuana studies will significantly change federal policy. “Ample scientific research already exists to contradict cannabis’ federal Schedule I status -- as a substance without medical utility, lacking acceptable safety, and possessing a high potential of abuse,” Armentano said. “More research is welcome, but unfortunately science has never driven marijuana policy. If it did, we would already have a very different policy in place.”
Friday, June 19, 2015
This intriguing new Forbes article, headlined "Israel, Canada Want A Piece Of New York's Medical Marijuana," highlights a number of ways in which marijuana reform in the United States is already changing a number of notable global realities. Here are excerpts:
For years the United States worried about drugs crossing our borders from other countries, now it seems other countries are crossing our border to get into drugs. Namely – cannabis. While most believe that the U.S. is conservative in its approach to marijuana, the recent push for legalization has suddenly thrust America’s marketplace into a cannabis leadership position.
The potential for the U.S. market is so big, that companies from other countries want in. Israel wants in on the action in New York. Marijuana is illegal in the country, but in a twist, the country is a world leader on its research into the medical uses of marijuana. Tikun Olam, which means ‘healing the world’ in Hebrew, is the only large-scale industrial producer of cannabis in Israel and operates under a license from the Israel Ministry of Health. Tikun Olam announced that it was partnering with Compassionate Care Center of New York and applying to be a Registered Organization under New York’s Compassionate Care Act....
MedReleaf, another Canadian manufacturer of medical-grade cannabis announced it entered into an exclusive partnership with New York State Compassionate Care Center of New York. CCCNY has also applied for one of the five licenses to be awarded in New York State and while it hasn’t gotten any approvals, it has established a greenhouse in Newark, NY ready for immediate production. MedReleaf operates a 55,000 square foot facility in Markham, Ontario and is one of the largest suppliers in the Canadian market. Tikun Olam is also partnered with MedReleaf in Canada and grows some of Tikun’s proprietary strains. Canada has been very progressive in setting up its medical marijuana program and the companies there want to expand....
The changes taking place in the US are also affecting Mexico, another long time black market partner. Marijuana seizures at the border are half of what they were five years ago. Mexican farmers are ripping up their cannabis plants and turning to subsidized tomatoes. Mexico decriminalized small amounts of pot, but hasn’t gone as far as the US in legalization. The drug cartels are switching to more expensive products like heroin and luxury strains from Colorado are in demand in Mexico according to Bloomberg and creating a reverse in the trafficking.
The exchange goes both ways. Jamaica may have an established black market business, but its looking to U.S. firms to become legitimate. Jamaica only recently decriminalized marijuana, which is hard to believe that it wasn’t already legal. Any tourist to the country was usually offered ganja on the shuttle bus from the airport to their hotel. Jamaica, the biggest supplier of black market pot to the U.S., kept it illegal to make officials in this country happy. With our laws easing up, they felt like they had the green light to acknowledge that marijuana shouldn’t be punished within its country. United Cannabis Corp based in Colorado has launched a partnership with Jamaican agencies for a marijuana research and development facility. The Cannabinoid Research & Development Company is considering a headquarters in Kingston Jamaica for pharmaceutical research and with the goal to standardize strains.
As the domestic cannabis growers become more established, it isn’t inconceivable they too will want to take their knowledge and experience to other markets. As the medical marijuana market matures, global partnerships will become more frequent blurring those old drug wars.
June 19, 2015 in Business laws and regulatory issues, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, International Marijuana Laws and Policies, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate | Permalink | Comments (0)
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
Huge new NIH-funded study concludes "passage of state medical marijuana laws does not increase adolescent use of marijuana"
I am pleased to see that this huge new NIH-funded study on the impact of medical marijuana reforms on use of marijuana among young folks has just been released. The research, conducted by multiple researchers, is published in The Lancet Psychiatry under the title "Medical marijuana laws and adolescent marijuana use in the USA from 1991 to 2014: results from annual, repeated cross-sectional surveys." Here is its summary:
Background Adolescent use of marijuana is associated with adverse later effects, so the identification of factors underlying adolescent use is of substantial public health importance. The relationship between US state laws that permit marijuana for medical purposes and adolescent marijuana use has been controversial. Such laws could convey a message about marijuana acceptability that increases its use soon after passage, even if implementation is delayed or the law narrowly restricts its use. We used 24 years of national data from the USA to examine the relationship between state medical marijuana laws and adolescent use of marijuana.
Methods Using a multistage, random-sampling design with replacement, the Monitoring the Future study conducts annual national surveys of 8th, 10th, and 12th-grade students (modal ages 13–14, 15–16, and 17–18 years, respectively), in around 400 schools per year. Students complete self-administered questionnaires that include questions on marijuana use. We analysed data from 1 098270 adolescents surveyed between 1991 and 2014. The primary outcome of this analysis was any marijuana use in the previous 30 days. We used multilevel regression modelling with adolescents nested within states to examine two questions. The first was whether marijuana use was higher overall in states that ever passed a medical marijuana law up to 2014. The second was whether the risk of marijuana use changed after passage of medical marijuana laws. Control covariates included individual, school, and state-level characteristics.
Findings Marijuana use was more prevalent in states that passed a medical marijuana law any time up to 2014 than in other states (adjusted prevalence 15·87% vs 13·27%; adjusted odds ratio [OR] 1·27, 95% CI 1·07–1·51; p=0·0057). However, the risk of marijuana use in states before passing medical marijuana laws did not differ significantly from the risk after medical marijuana laws were passed (adjusted prevalence 16·25% vs 15·45%; adjusted OR 0·92, 95% CI 0·82–1·04; p=0·185). Results were generally robust across sensitivity analyses, including redefining marijuana use as any use in the previous year or frequency of use, and reanalysing medical marijuana laws for delayed effects or for variation in provisions for dispensaries.
Interpretation Our findings, consistent with previous evidence, suggest that passage of state medical marijuana laws does not increase adolescent use of marijuana. However, overall, adolescent use is higher in states that ever passed such a law than in other states. State-level risk factors other than medical marijuana laws could contribute to both marijuana use and the passage of medical marijuana laws, and such factors warrant investigation.
June 16, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (1)
Monday, June 8, 2015
What an Ohio high school kid thinks about marijuana reform: "Marijuana legalization as viewed from the trenches of youth"
The quoted portion of the title of this post is the headline of this interesting new commentary authored by Karina Baffa and published by cleveland.com. According to the piece, Ms. Baffa "graduated Monday from Fairview High School, in Fairview Park, where she researched the ramifications of marijuana legalization as part of a senior project." The piece merits a full read, and here are some excerpts from the start and end of the piece:
As a recent high school graduate, I have seen the short- and long-term effects of marijuana from all aspects of my life. I believe that the opinions and viewpoints of our younger generation are vital when it comes to the decision to legalize marijuana.
Even though this drug has positive medical uses and effects, it is still a mind-altering drug that needs to be legally regulated and used responsibly when utilized for recreational purposes.
As a member of society, I believe the legalization of marijuana would implement a plethora of health and economic benefits. Studies portray a decrease in violence and aggressive behavior after someone smokes marijuana, as opposed to people intoxicated with alcohol, who can sometimes get violent and make poor decisions, causing thousands of deaths per year....
From my personal experiences, I can confidently assert that whether or not marijuana is illegal, anyone who wants to smoke it will do so. The use of marijuana, like practically anything, is bad only if you make it bad. The advantages that legalized marijuana would bring to today's society include more profit for business people and more revenue for government, reduced crime and violence, and a beneficial alternative to detrimental drugs that already are legal, such as cigarettes and alcohol.
Overall, from my viewpoint as a recent high school graduate, I strongly believe the legalization of marijuana would be a positive step.
Among the meta-stories I find notable from this piece is the simple fact that Ms. Baffa decided to, and her high school allowed here, to make study of the ramifications of marijuana legalization be part of an official senior project. I suspect just a few years ago, a public high school in Ohio would not have considered this a proper subject from study.
With this piece serving as kind of a sign of the times in Ohio, I am hopeful everyone interested in this topic within the state (including Ms. Baffa) is now making plans to attend the exciting Ohio Marijuana Reform Symposium taking place later this week at my own Moritz College of Law. As described on this registration page, a notable set of speakers will be presenting and assessing on Thursday, June 11, 2015, on the campus of The Ohio State University the findings of a big new report about marijuana reform in the Buckeye State.
Saturday, June 6, 2015
The title of this post is from a sentence in this notable new OZY article, which is headlined "Getting Stoned, Getting Freaky." Here are some (amusing? prurient? silly?) excerpts:
[G]etting intimate while getting high is not exactly a 21st-century invention. Cannabis was used for a range of medicinal purposes more than 10 centuries ago in ancient India, including — you guessed it — as a turn-on trigger. There are at least 18 variations of bhang, a grass-infused drink that was used as a sort of love potion in the ancient Ayurvedic and Unani Tibbi systems of medicine, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Some experts, like anthropologist Christian Rätsch in his book Plants of Love: The History of Aphrodisiacs and a Guide to Their Identification and Use, argue that weed was a central component to the sexual part of ancient Hindu and Buddhist Tantra, though it’s still up for debate how prominently it was featured.
And modern science hasn’t exactly cleared the haze when it comes to pot’s effect on sex. A flurry of studies in the 1980s found mixed results, with some noting that bud put a serious damper on sex while others found it lit a fire under the bed, according to Michael Castleman, a journalist who specializes in sexuality. Research into the weed/sex tie-up went on hiatus until about a decade ago, when Canadian researchers picked up the torch and found that one-third of interviewees used weed specifically for its sex-enhancing properties, while another third said it “seldom” or “never” improved sex. “It doesn’t work the same way for everybody,” warns Andrew Hathaway, one of the study’s authors and an associate professor of sociology at the University of Guelph.
Today, weed can seem like one person’s magical cup of tea and not another’s because it’s not an objective aphrodisiac per se, says Dr. Lester Grinspoon, professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and one of the most widely known marijuana researchers. Marijuana doesn’t increase libido or sexual performance so much as it enhances the sensations of sex. Just like how food tastes better and music sounds better while stoned, Grinspoon says, “sex feels better.” When he first started smoking in his 40s, it took Grinspoon a few tries to feel anything. It finally struck him that he was high when he got into bed, he says. But nowadays getting stoned is a bit different given how much stronger the drug is. Smoking too much can make someone fold in on themselves or become paranoid, which isn’t exactly the sexiest move.
Science be damned, weed-centric entrepreneurs are seemingly willing to try anything to make money in an industry that many are calling the Wild West. Recent pot legalization in a number of U.S. states — the big vote in California happens during next year’s election — has galvanized some to mix weed and sex to make some money. There’s Foria, a well-received marijuana-infused sex lube for women, and more products are likely to follow. Even some porn stars are cashing in by partnering with growers and having smoke sessions on live cams with fans, says Chauntelle Tibbals, a sociologist who has done extensive research on the adult entertainment industry. Hell, there’s even an ad for a sex columnist “with weed focus.”
There’s obviously a lot more at stake here than making money. Pro-weed activists promote weed as an immaculate aphrodisiac that can help deter date rape, since alcohol tends to lead to aggression while pot tends to have the opposite effect. But critics warn the drug’s strength will lead to unsafe sex. The reality, says Tyler Osterhaus, an anti-violence educator who has worked for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s Sexual Violence Prevention Program, is somewhere in the middle. He adds, however, that weed can certainly lower someone’s guard and make them vulnerable to sexual violence.
Thursday, May 21, 2015
As reported in this new Huffington Post piece, headlined "Pioneer Pot States Did The Right Thing, Polls Show," recent polling in the two states to lead the modern marijuana legalization movement indicates that three years of experience with legalization has not diminished support for these reforms. Here are the basic details:
Support for legalized marijuana seems to be growing in Colorado and Washington state, which became the first U.S. states to regulate the weed for recreational use two years ago.
A survey released Wednesday from Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling shows that 56 percent of voters in Washington state approve of their state's recreational marijuana laws, while 37 percent are opposed. The opposition is lower than that in the 2012 vote to approve legalization, in which 56 percent supported the measure, and 44 percent disapproved. Moreover, a majority of Washington voters -- 77 percent -- say the marijuana laws have either had a positive effect or no effect on their lives, according to the poll.
A Qunnipiac poll last month tells a similar story in Colorado. Sixty-two percent of Colorado voters support reformed marijuana laws, the poll shows. That's an increase of 7 percentage points over the margin of support when voters approved Colorado's legalization in 2012....
Colorado became the first U.S. state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, quickly followed by Washington. The first retail shops opened in 2014. By the end of last year, voters in Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C., approved recreational marijuana legalization measures. By 2016, as many as 10 additional states are likely to consider reforming marijuana laws.
May 21, 2015 in History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Initiative reforms in states, Polling data and results, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this notable recent article via Philly.com. Here are excerpts:
There is a robust, national conversation about police and justice reform. And by decriminalizing marijuana, Philadelphia is getting a glimpse of what that entails.
Last October, Philly became America's largest city to make marijuana possession a civil, rather than a criminal, violation. The result has been a dramatic reduction in arrests.... They are down more than 70 percent.
For decades, Philly police put anyone caught with anything from a roach up to 30 grams into handcuffs and a holding cell. The city’s new decrim policy gives officers the option of issuing a Code Violation Notice: $25 for possession and $100 for smoking in public. The result has meant fewer interactions between cannabis consumers and police.
It’s also saving tens of thousands of hours of police time -- and a big chunk of tax dollars. The RAND Corporation this year released a that calculated a single custodial arrest costs $1,266. Using the RAND numbers, Philly may have already saved more than $1 million under the new policy from January to March this year compared to 2013. RAND estimated that the cost of issuing citations is a mere $20....
The shift in policy has allowed police to spend more time on other crimes. Cocaine and heroin possession arrests are combined in the same code in the Pennsylvania Uniform Crime Reporting System [and] while marijuana arrests have decreased there has been an uptick in arrests for harder drugs....
One of the most compelling reasons that City Council took on pot decriminalization was the disturbing racial disparity specifically in marijuana arrests. Unfortunately, that has not changed ... [as] Black residents are still 7 times more likely to be arrested for weed than white residents.
Some are quick to say that this disparity exists because police are heavily patrolling in neighborhoods of color. But that would mean other arrests, especially for other drugs, would have the same disparity. But that is not the case [as data shows] more white people got arrested for cocaine and heroin in Philly so far this year.
[T]there is no statistical or procedural reason that can explain the continued brunt of marijuana enforcement on black residents. It highlights part of a bigger problem with urban policing, one that will take more than legalizing marijuana to solve.
Congrats to Prof. Sam Kamin for becoming the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy
I was pleased on Monday to receive an e-mail press release titled "Denver-Based Vicente Sederberg LLC, One of the Nation’s Leading Marijuana Law Firms, Establishes Professorship for Marijuana Law and Policy at University of Denver Sturm College of Law." I was even more pleased to see from the first paragraph of this release that on of the occasional co-bloggers in this space was to be the first to fill this first- (but not last?) of-its-kind Professorship:
Today, the University of Denver Sturm College of Law proudly announced that it has received a $45,000 commitment from Denver-based law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC to enable one faculty member to serve as the Vicente Sederberg Professor of Marijuana Law and Policy. The purpose of this three-year professorship is to allow a Sturm College of Law faculty member to dedicate time and resources toward the development of intelligent marijuana law and policy and engage students in this important work. To be held initially by Professor Sam Kamin, it is believe to be the first professorship of its kind in the world.
Sturm College of Law Dean Martin J. Katz celebrated the groundbreaking nature of this professorship, while praising the work of the firm supporting it. “Our state and our school are poised to take a leadership position in this important new area of law and policy,” said Dean Katz. “The rest of the country is watching. We need to do this right.”
“We are extremely proud of the pioneering work done by our graduates at Vicente Sederberg,” Dean Katz continued, “And we are honored to name a professorship for them, which will be held by Professor Sam Kamin, the nation’s foremost authority in this field.”
Brian Vicente, a founding partner at Vicente Sederberg and Sturm College of Law graduate, lauded the institution for its commitment to advancing this new area of the law. “As the marijuana industry expands in Colorado and around the nation and the world, there is a growing need for attorneys qualified to represent business owners,” said Vicente. “With the launch of this professorship, Sturm College of Law will be taking the lead in providing law students the training they need to enter this new field. We are proud to be able to support their efforts in this area.”
Monday, May 18, 2015
The title of this post come from my reaction to the headline of this Politico article, which carries the headline appearing in quotes above. Here is an excerpt that helps highlight why I think the GOP risks becoming a marginal party if it does not get on the marijuana reform bandwagon:
There’s been much written about how millennials are becoming a reliable voting bloc for Democrats, but there’s been much less attention paid to one of the biggest get-out-the-vote challenges for the Republican Party heading into the next presidential election: Hundreds of thousands of their traditional core supporters won’t be able to turn out to vote at all. The party’s core is dying off by the day.
Since the average Republican is significantly older than the average Democrat, far more Republicans than Democrats have died since the 2012 elections. To make matters worse, the GOP is attracting fewer first-time voters. Unless the party is able to make inroads with new voters, or discover a fountain of youth, the GOP’s slow demographic slide will continue election to election. Actuarial tables make that part clear, but just how much of a problem for the GOP is this?
Since it appears that no political data geek keeps track of voters who die between elections, I took it upon myself to do some basic math. And that quick back-of-the-napkin math shows that the trend could have a real effect in certain states, and make a battleground states like Florida and Ohio even harder for the Republican Party to capture.
As regular readers know, Florida had a big marijuana reform initiative on its ballot in 2014 and Ohio is headed toward an even bigger reform voter initiative in 2015. In Florida in 2014, as has been the usual pattern, Democrats were far more inclined to endorse marijuana reform and they garnered more younger voters. The same pattern is already playing out in Ohio in the run up to the 2015 vote. Consider also another swing state, Virginia, in which this recent marijuana legalization poll highlights these age/opinion demographics in the state: "Voters 18 to 34 years old support recreational marijuana 75-21 percent, while voters 35 to 54 percent support it 59-36 percent. Voters over 55 years old are opposed 52-43 percent."
I consider of particular importance in this political/practical setting not only what issues are likely to attract young voters to particular parties and candidates, but also what issues are likely to motivate younger Americans to register and actually turn out to vote on election day. Especially in Ohio, where the marijuana reform backers have a significant war chest, there is likely to be a special effort in 2015 in getting younger folks (especially college students) registered to vote AND actually voting in an off-off year election. If new, younger voters in Ohio and elsewhere, who start getting focused on state and national politics because of marijuana reform, see GOP candidates only as vocal reform opponents (despite some having been notable marijuana users themselves like Jeb Bush), I think the bad demographic trends stressed in this Politico article are likely only to get worse for the GOP.
I am very pleased to see that the new issue of Time magazine has a cover with an amusing picture and this text: "The Highly Divisive, Curiously Underfunded and Strangely Promising World of Pot Science." I have long thought that one of the biggest problems with federal marijuana prohibition has been its significant anti-science impact, and the subheading of this Time cover story highlights this theme: "Legalization keeps rolling ahead. But because of years of government roadblocks on research, we don’t know nearly enough about the dangers of marijuana — or the benefits." Here are excerpts from a must-read article:
Welcome to the encouraging, troubling and strangely divided frontier of marijuana science. The most common illicit drug on the planet and one of the fastest-growing industries in America, pot remains – surprisingly – something of a medical mystery, thanks in part to decades of obstruction and misinformation by the federal government. Potentially groundbreaking studies on the drug’s healing powers are being done to find treatments for conditions like epilepsy, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, sickle-cell disease and multiple sclerosis. But there are also new discoveries about the drug’s impact on recreational users.
The effects are generally less severe than those of tobacco and alcohol, which together cause more than 560,000 American deaths annually. Unlike booze, marijuana isn’t a neurotoxin, and unlike cigarettes, it has an uncertain connection to lung cancer. Unlike heroin, pot brings almost no risk of sudden death without a secondary factor like a car crash. But science has also found clear indications that in addition to short-term effects on cognition, pot can change developing brains, possibly affecting mental abilities and dispositions, especially for certain populations. The same drug that seems relatively harmless in moderation for adults appears to be risky for people under age 21, whose brains are still developing. “It has a whole host of effects on learning and cognition that other drugs don’t have,” says Jodi Gilman, a Harvard Medical School researcher who has been studying the brains of human marijuana users. “It looks like the earlier you start, the bigger the effects.”
That relatively measured tone is a far cry from the shrill warnings of Harry J. Anslinger, the first commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, who in the 1930s set the standard for America’s fraught debate over marijuana with wild exaggerations. “How many murders, suicides, robberies, criminal assaults, holdups, burglaries and deeds of maniacal insanity it causes each year, especially among the young, can only be conjectured,” he wrote as part of a campaign to terrify the country. As recently as the 1970s, President Richard Nixon talked about the drug as a weapon of the nation’s enemies. “That’s why the communists and the left-wingers are pushing the stuff,” he was recorded saying in private. “They’re trying to destroy us.”
The official line today is better grounded in data and research. And the new focus is squarely on brain development. “I am most concerned about possibly harming the potential of our young people,” says Dr. Nora Volkow, the head of the National Institute for Drug Abuse (NIDA).... “That could be disastrous for our country.” But decades of prohibition and official misinformation continue to shape public views....
As states now rush to legalize pot and unwind a massive criminalization effort, the federal government is trying to play catch-up on the science, with mixed success. The only federal marijuana farm, at the University of Mississippi, has recently expanded production with a $69 million grant in March, and Volkow has expressed a new openness to studies of marijuana’s healing potential. In the coming months, Uncle Sam will begin a 10-year, $300 million study with thousands of adolescents to track the harm that marijuana, alcohol and other drugs do to the developing brain. High-tech imaging will allow researchers for the first time to map the effects of marijuana on the brain as humans age.
But scientists and others point out that a shift to fund the real science of pot still has a long way to go. The legacy of the war on drugs haunts the medical establishment, and federal rules still put onerous restrictions on the labs around the country that seek to work with marijuana, which remains classified among the most dangerous and least valuable drugs. “We can do studies on cocaine and morphine without a problem, because they are Schedule II,” explains Fair Vassoler, a researcher at Tufts University... who has replicated Hurd’s rat experiment with synthetic pot. “But marijuana is Schedule I.”
May 18, 2015 in Federal Marijuana Laws, Policies and Practices, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical community perspectives, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (1)
Sunday, May 17, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this new New York Times article, which includes these excerpts:
After nearly 20 years on the job, Jim Jeffries, the police chief in LaFollette, Tenn., has seen his share of marijuana seizures — dry green buds stashed in trunks or beneath seats, often doublebagged to smother the distinctive scent. But these days, Chief Jeffries is on the lookout for something unexpected: lollipops and marshmallows.
Recently his officers pulled over a Chevy Blazer driven by a couple with three children in tow. Inside, the officers discovered 24 pounds of marijuanalaced cookies and small hard candies shaped like gingerbread men, plus a tub of pungent marijuana butter perfect for making more. The bags of Kraft marshmallows looked innocent enough. But a meat injector was also found in the car. After searching the Internet, Chief Jeffries realized that the marshmallows probably had been infused with the marijuana butter and heatsealed into their bags....
Across the country, law enforcement agencies long accustomed to seizures of bagged, smokable marijuana are now wrestling with a surge in marijuana-infused snacks and confections transported illegally across state lines for resale.
Pot edibles, as they are called, can be much easier to smuggle than marijuana buds: They may resemble candy or homebaked goodies, and often have no telltale smell. And few police officers are trained to think of gummy bears, mints or neoncolored drinks as potential dope.
Some experts worry that smuggled pot edibles will appeal to many consumers, particularly adolescents, who are ill prepared for the deceptively slow high. Impatient novices can easily eat too much too fast, suffering anxiety attacks and symptoms resembling psychosis. Already, young children have eaten laced sweets left within reach. Many live in states where there has been no public education about responsible consumption of marijuana.
“Citizens in nonlegalization states are far less likely to be receiving those messages, so their risks are probably greater,” said Robert J. MacCoun, a professor of law at Stanford who recently cowrote an editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine urging stronger regulation of pot edibles.
There are no hard numbers for the amount of pot edibles being trafficked interstate, but police departments in a variety of jurisdictions without legal sales report seizing increasing amounts in the past year. The quantities suggest the products are intended to supply a growing demand, law enforcement officials say....
The popularity of confections laced with marijuana has caught many health officials by surprise. Pot edibles took off in 2014, the first year of recreational sales in Colorado, when nearly five million individual items were sold to patients and adult users. Demand in Colorado and Washington State has spawned a stunning assortment of snacks and sweets, from Mondo’s sugarfree vegan bars to Dixie Edibles’ white chocolate peppermint squares.
Today consumers 21 and older can legally buy pot edibles in those two states; soon adults in Oregon and Alaska will join them. Pot edibles are available to medical users in at least a half dozen of the 23 states with medical marijuana programs.
Edibles make sense for marijuana entrepreneurs. In the past, marijuana buds were sold, and the rest of the plant was usually discarded. But with an extraction machine, makers of edible products can use the entire plant. “In a world where THC becomes inexpensive, you would like to differentiate your product from other people’s products in ways that allow you to maintain a higher profit margin,” said Jonathan Caulkins, a coauthor of “Marijuana Legalization,” who has studied black markets for cocaine and marijuana. “Edibles offer some opportunities for that.”...
The manufacturers themselves say they receive constant requests for outofstate shipments. James Howler, the chief executive of Cheeba Chews, based in Denver, said his team fields emails from people nationwide — from epilepsy patients in Iowa to a retired mechanic in Florida, all of whom would rather snack on marijuana than smoke it.
“The needs and curiosity from around the country can be overwhelming,” he said. Still, Mr. Howler said, he declines them all. “It is highly illegal, and stupid to think we would risk everything,” he said.
May 17, 2015 in Criminal justice developments and reforms, History of Marijuana Laws in the United States, Medical Marijuana Data and Research, Recreational Marijuana Data and Research | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, May 14, 2015
The title of this post is the headline of this new Jacob Sullum commentary at Forbes. Here are excerpts:
[N]o one should pretend that marijuana prohibition was carefully considered or that it was driven by science, as opposed to ignorance and blind prejudice. It is hard to rationally explain why Congress, less than four years after Americans had emphatically rejected alcohol prohibition, thought it was a good idea to ban a recreational intoxicant that is considerably less dangerous.
It is relatively easy, for example, to die from acute alcohol poisoning, since the ratio of the lethal dose to the dose that gives you a nice buzz is about 10 to 1. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2,200 Americans die from alcohol overdoses each year. By contrast, there has never been a documented human death from a marijuana overdose. Based on extrapolations from animal studies, the ratio of the drug’s lethal dose to its effective dose is something like 40,000 to 1.
There is also a big difference between marijuana and alcohol when it comes to the long-term effects of excessive consumption. Alcoholics suffer gross organ damage of a kind that is not seen even in the heaviest pot smokers, affecting the liver, brain, pancreas, kidneys, and stomach. The CDC attributes more than 38,000 deaths a year to three dozen chronic conditions caused or aggravated by alcohol abuse.
Another 12,500 alcohol-related deaths in the CDC’s tally occur in traffic accidents, and marijuana also has an advantage on that score. Although laboratory studies indicate that marijuana can impair driving ability, its effects are not nearly as dramatic as alcohol’s. In fact, marijuana’s impact on traffic safety is so subtle that it is difficult to measure in the real world....
Even if marijuana prohibition were consistent with science and the Constitution, it would be inconsistent with basic principles of morality. It is patently unfair to treat marijuana merchants like criminals while treating liquor dealers like legitimate businessmen, especially in light of the two drugs’ relative hazards. It is equally perverse to arrest cannabis consumers while leaving drinkers unmolested.
Peaceful activities such as growing a plant or selling its produce cannot justify the violence that is required to enforce prohibition. In the name of stopping people from getting high, police officers routinely commit acts that would be universally recognized as assault, burglary, theft, kidnapping, and even murder were it not for laws that draw arbitrary lines between psychoactive substances.
Monday, May 11, 2015
This important Chicago Reader article by Mick Dumke spotlights issues at the intersection of marijuana reform and racial/social justice that I have been thinking about a lot lately. The piece is headlined "Will marijuana decriminalization end the racial grass gap?: As the politics of pot shift, questions of justice remain," and merits a full read for anyone interested in these issues. Here are excerpts:
Many cannabis enthusiasts saw it as another reason to light up: in a span of three days, the Cook County state's attorney and the Illinois house both took steps to reduce penalties for marijuana possession.
But in some parts of Chicago, people were still getting busted for pot. Police made at least 212 arrests for misdemeanor possession that week, a rate of 30 per day, according to Chicago police data. More than 90 percent were in predominantly black neighborhoods.
Amid a national debate on race and the criminal justice system, the politics of pot are clearly blowing in a new direction. Simply put, it's no longer wise for an elected official to call for cracking down on low-level drug offenses. But the shift has also created a jumble of laws and policies that continue to send some people to jail for the same behavior that's overlooked, laughed off, or even celebrated for others.
It's the latest incarnation of what the Reader calls the grass gap: while people smoke marijuana all over Chicago — and Illinois, and beyond — almost everyone busted for it is black.
Ending this racial imbalance has become a top goal of elected officials and policymakers who see it as emblematic of the failed war on drugs. "Anything that takes a meaningful step toward not trapping black and brown men like myself in a cycle of poverty and prison, I'm behind," says state representative Christian Mitchell, a chief sponsor of the house bill to loosen pot penalties.
So far, though, the gap has remained stubbornly in place. In 2011 my colleague Ben Joravsky and I reported that African-Americans accounted for 78 percent of those arrested, 89 percent of those convicted, and 92 percent of those jailed for misdemeanor marijuana possession in Chicago, leaving thousands with criminal records for doing something that routinely went unpunished in other parts of the city.
Citing those findings, the Chicago City Council passed an ordinance in 2012 to go easier on some pot possessors. Under the new rules, police officers were allowed to issue tickets to those caught with up to 15 grams (about half an ounce) instead of hauling them to the station to be booked and locked up.
The measure succeeded in reducing busts. In 2010, police made more than 22,000 arrests for misdemeanor possession. Last year the total fell to about 12,800, the lowest in two decades, according to police data. Yet the grass gap hardly budged. In 2014, 76 percent of those arrested for low-level pot possession were black, 19 percent were Hispanic, and 5 percent were white — almost exactly the same breakdown as before the new rules were enacted.
Disparities existed almost everywhere in the city, even in areas with relatively small black populations. African-Americans accounted for a majority of pot possession arrests in all but 97 of the city's 268 police beats. In contrast, though more whites live in Chicago, they made up the majority of arrests in only 13 beats — and in ten of those, fewer than ten people were arrested.
Marty Maloney, a spokesman for the Chicago Police Department, points to the drop in total arrests as a sign of the department's commitment to making enforcement "even more effective and fair." "The City's cannabis ticketing initiative has already kept thousands out of jail," he wrote in an e-mail. Unfortunately, thousands are still going there.
After being arrested, offenders are held in police lockup for hours. Many are then transferred to the county jail before they're given a court date and released. Most misdemeanor marijuana cases are eventually thrown out of court at the discretion of prosecutors and judges. Those that move forward usually involve repeat offenders, but not always. People who've spent a day or two behind bars often plead guilty in return for a sentence of the time they've already served.
All told, 1,263 misdemeanor marijuana cases resulted in jail time last year in Cook County, according to data from the circuit court clerk's office. In almost all of these cases — 84 percent — the defendants were African-American.
In short, while pot has essentially been decriminalized for some people, it still lands others behind bars. And in addition to being unfair, the system is expensive. These misdemeanor pot cases cost county taxpayers approximately $38 million in court and jail expenses in 2014....
Cops say the grass gap is the result of aggressive patrols in high-crime neighborhoods. Officers charged with reducing violence pull people aside for interviews — Chicago's version of stop and frisk. While arrests consume two to four hours of an officer's time, police say they can also be useful in leveraging drug sellers and gang members for information, or simply getting them off the street for awhile.
When low-level possession is decriminalized, police will probably issue more tickets — but even then African-Americans will bear the brunt of enforcement. That's what's happened in Chicago. As marijuana arrests fell, the number of cannabis citations shot up from 1,074 in 2013 to 4,032 in 2014, police data show. And the vast majority — 78 percent — were issued to African-Americans. Just 16 percent went to Hispanics and 5 percent to whites.
When possible, cops will arrest offenders on different charges — such as possessing more than 15 grams, or possessing with the intent to deliver, the formal charge for dealing. Police, prosecutors, and politicians acknowledge that decriminalization won't address the economic roots of the grass gap either. Many of those prosecuted in the last couple years are repeat offenders who appear to have been selling to make money, according to police reports and court records.
A few prior posts on racial justice and marijuana reform:
- Do (and should) marijuana reform advocates consider themselves civil rights activists like MLK?
- Is pot already really legal for middle-aged white folks?
- MLK marijuana mash-up: "I Have A Dream..." we are free at last from pot prohibition
- Race, marijuana enforcement and legalization
- Racial Disparities in Marijuana Enforcement
- NAACP advocating for full legalization of marijuana ASAP in Nevada
- "Are cities being racially discriminatory in banning legal marijuana?"
- Considering marijuana prohibition and reform through the lens of minority communities